Editor’s Note: CNS International Editor Barb Fraze and Visual Media Manager Nancy Wiechec are in Kenya on a trip funded by the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States.
NAIROBI, Kenya — Twenty-five African boys, ages 5-16, clustered excitedly around the visiting Americans, smiling, shaking hands and welcoming them.
The U.S. diocesan mission directors were enthralled with the boys, residents of the Ukweli Home of Hope for street children. The boys were just as enchanted with their guests.
Deacon Ed Kelly of Scranton, Pa., was talking sports, discovering that the youths knew Kenyans often won the Boston Marathon.
Msgr. Francis X. Blood of St. Louis and Heather Lupinacci of Harrisburg, Pa., were taking photos of the boys. Father John Zemelko of Gary, Ind., stood between the two photographers, making rabbit ears behind their heads to make the youths smile. Father Donald LaPointe of Springfield, Mass., was teaching the boys to give high fives.
The Ukweli Home of Hope project, begun by Maryknoll in 1995, is now run by the Little Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi. Sister Catherine Wanza, project director, said the sisters moved the project out of Kibera slum in 2005 because the boys were falling back into their old behaviors such as taking drugs and sniffing glue. In addition, there were physical problems such as water shortages and crowding in Kibera.
Today, the boys live in small concrete and corrugated tin buildings on the grounds of the headquarters of the sisters. They go to public schools in the area, and those that go to secondary school are normally sent to boarding school.
“They volunteered to come,” Sister Catherine told the visitors. As her charges go off to school, she tells them to “prove to them that you are no longer a street boy.” She proudly says eight of those who came through the program are in college, including one in the United States.
Life on the streets, competition for grades and gratefulness to the sisters for their care all came through in the children’s skits for the visitors. Several young men showed a flair for the dramatic, and one skit even showed famous Kenyan politicians arguing over the fate of a street boy.
The visitors were touched and, later, Michele Meiers of Philadelphia joked about the minor miracle that occurred. She found in her bag 25 rosaries made by eighth graders at St. Alphonsus School in Maple Glen, Pa., so each boy received one. She thought she had given them all away.
And Father Bill Holoubek of Lincoln, Neb., thought he had nothing left, but dug into his bag and found just enough Miraculous Medals for the boys. He gave each of them a medal — blessed by the pope — and taught them the special prayer that goes with it.